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By Robyn Gobert,
Disability Advocate and Access Consultant, Barrier-free Lifestyles.
Web Site: www.cairnsbug.org/disability.htm
At the gateway to the land of the min-min light, we went under-ground.
On a self-drive holiday throughout Far North Queensland - our back yard - my husband, Tourism Photographer Paul Gobert and I, found the Undara lava tube to be a cool relief from the 30c heat above. Savanna guide, Kay Stevens brought the bush to life with her all-encompassing knowledge and the ramps and sola-battery powered disability lift into Road Cave is a credit to the National Parks Service.
Although Undara was not fully set up for people with mobility impairments, we were able to work around that.
We'd stayed at the beautiful Holiday Inn in Cairns the day before and enjoyed their sumptuous seafood buffet. We'd spent an enjoyable day driving up the Kuranda Range to Atherton where we'd sampled the local produce of this dairy and farming area.
The dairy factory in Malanda, Dairy Farmers, makes a range of products readily available in the local supermarket. Along the way the little roadside stalls sell cheap and farm-fresh produce. You can buy anything from fresh flowers to bags of horse poo!
The gloriously green Tablelands were alive with birds and wildlife, testimony to the longstanding fauna and flora sanctuary status, with a well known bird hide at Hasties Swamp near Atherton. The next bird hide was at Slaughterhouse Swamp over near Mt Molloy and it, too, was abuzz with activity.
When travelling, "Where is the next accessible loo?" is often the most pressing question. On this trip the Heritage Museum in Mareeba, Gallo's Park on the Kennedy Highway on the journey to Ravenshoe and then the Forty Mile Scrub rest stop are a good bet. There's also facilities in the park in Georgetown.
That night we were made welcome at the Mt Surprise Tourist Park. Their new disability unit was very comfortable and, in true country hospitality style, the food was plentiful. We didn't see any strange lights in the sky, but sightings around the area have been well documented.
Driving north-east the following day we stopped at the Mareeba Wetlands - this facility is accessible, but not yet equitable - then on down the Rex Range Road to Port Douglas.
The Port Douglas Radisson Treetops Resort was luxurious. Disability access is a relatively new idea within Tropical North Queensland but many are making every effort to provide for this need.
Promotion Bureaus across the north have been receiving requests from our northern Asian neighbours for holiday packages for people with disabilities. Apparently these folk want to come out in groups of about 10, stay in the same resort (but not the same room) for a week to 10 days, hire local Carers while here and basically do everything there is to do.
Tropical North Queensland is offering a wider variety of choices with well known icons of the area such as Skyrail, the historic train at Kuranda and Tjapukai all accessible.
Julia, my daughter, who acts as a Carer, and Zachary, my grandson, met with Paul's photography assistant, Neil Macleod and joined us onboard Quicksilver for a day on the Great Barrier Reef.
The highly motivated and aware staff at Quicksilver have to contend with the marine environment, yet every consideration has been made for people in wheelchairs and those with other disabilities. Their attitude, from the first contact phone call, is marvellous and worth emulating.
When one is out and about many businesses do not understand that there is more than just providing access involved in catering to the disability market. Attitude is equally important.
For many people with disabilities, their disability is their normality and they just want to be enabled to get on with it.
On-board the pontoon at Agincourt Reef we enjoyed a delicious buffet lunch with plenty of big prawns and a good selection of meals.
I donned my buoyancy vest and was lowered gently down on their water powered chair-lift. With the assistance of the safety officers and wearing snorkel and mask, I swam out to where I could hold the safety rope. There we spent a memorable three hours snorkelling and enjoying the undersea world.
On the fifth day, breakfast with the birds at The Rainforest Habitat was fun with the cheeky galas and the black cockatoo begging for a taste of the exotic tropical fare. This zoo allows interaction with the birds and animals while watching them in a naturalistic habitat. The whole area is accessible, albeit "with assistance" for self-pushed wheelchairs as some of the ramps are a little steep.
The following evening was spent under the stars at Karnak, Diane Cilento's beautiful open-air Playhouse and Rainforest Sanctuary just north of Mossman. We enjoyed Anthony Schiffer's play The Thing in the Wheelchair. Karnak is not disability accessible but people with limited mobility can get in to watch the plays if they are assisted.
Being afraid of heights, I was not looking forward to trying tethered hang gliding at Flying Leap the following day. However, it was exhilarating and we all loved it!
We found access across the far north somewhat hit-and-miss and often frustrating with inaccessible infrastructure, but many are trying hard to provide a useable product and after all, holidaying is all about finding what one can do, isn't it?
View holiday snaps, including scuba diving facilities and other accessible attractions.
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